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MarketWatch First Take: Manchester United stock rises as takeover saga continues; Ineos chief Jim Ratcliffe confirms interest in club

Shares of Manchester United rose 2.3% on Thursday as attempts to wrestle control of the Premier League club from the American Glazer family continued apace.

The Glazers are coming under intense pressure to sell the iconic club amid mounting fan frustration over Manchester United’s underperformance. The club, one of the biggest names in world soccer, last won the Premier League in 2013 and is facing fierce criticism over its transfer policy. Last year, the Glazers also faced a major fan backlash over their planned involvement in the controversial European Super League.

Shares of operator Manchester United Ltd.
MANU,
+2.78%

have fallen 1.8% this year, compared with the S&P 500 index’s
SPX,
+0.28%

decline of 10.4%.

These are turbulent times for the most successful team in the English top division, which it has won 20 times. A record 13 of these titles have come in the Premier League era, which began in 1992. Founded as Newton Heath in 1878, the club became Manchester United in 1902 and won the first of its 20 league titles six years later.

However, the team is currently bottom of the Premier League after defeats in its first two games, which include a 4-0 hammering at Brentford on Saturday. Fans are also watching closely to see whether Portuguese superstar Cristiano Ronaldo remains with the club after the current transfer window closes on Sept. 1.

The Glazers took control of Manchester United in 2005, and the club now has a calculated value of $4.6 billion, according to Forbes.

See Now: Michael Knighton steps into the spotlight again as he eyes second Manchester United takeover bid

Last week British businessman and former Manchester United director Michael Knighton made headlines amid reports he is planning a formal bid to buy the club’s operator. “These owners will be GONE by the end of this season,” Knighton tweeted on Saturday.

Even Tesla Inc.
TSLA,
-0.02%

Chief Executive Elon Musk has got involved in the takeover saga, jokingly tweeting on Tuesday that he is buying the club.

On a more serious level, British billionaire Sir Jim Ratcliffe, CEO of chemical giant Ineos, entered the ring this week, much to the delight of many Manchester United supporters.

“We are interested in the club if it is up for sale,” a spokesperson for Ratcliffe told MarketWatch on Thursday.

Ratcliffe, whose net worth is valued at $12.5 billion by Forbes, was born in Failsworth, Greater Manchester, and is a lifelong United fan, according to the Manchester Evening News.

The billionaire’s sporting links are strong. Ratcliffe, who ranks 27th on the Sunday Times Rich List, already owns the French Ligue 1 soccer club OGC Nice, and the Ineos Grenadiers professional cycling team.

Manchester United shares gain after Elon Musk jokingly suggests purchase and Glazers were reported to open up to minority stake sale

“Make no mistake about it, if Sir Jim Ratcliffe succeeds in buying Manchester United, we will celebrate it more than we celebrated the treble in ’99,” tweeted the UtdFaithfuls account. In 1999 Manchester United became the first team to win “the treble” of the Premier League, UEFA Champions League and F.A. Cup.

On Wednesday Bloomberg reported that the Glazer family may sell a minority stake in the club. “We do not comment on rumors and speculation,” a spokesperson for Manchester United told MarketWatch.

Citing a person familiar with the matter, who asked not to be identified, Bloomberg reported that Apollo Global Management
APO,
+0.51%

has already expressed interest.

However, fan group Boycott Movement Against the Glazers reacted negatively to the prospect of Apollo purchasing a stake in the club. “They’re trying to kill off the Ratcliffe move,” the group tweeted.

“Much like the reviled Glazer family, you are not welcome in Manchester,” the group wrote, in a letter to Apollo’s board of directors, which was shared on Twitter. “Do not invest,” the group added.

“Thanks to boycotts and protests the Glazer ownership is now in its death throes,” the letter continued, adding that Apollo will find no profit, no return on its investment and no lucrative carve up. “Supporters will no longer allow the club to be a piggy bank for unscrupulous owners, or an asset stripping exercise for notorious equity firms.”

MarketWatch has reached out to Apollo with a request for comment on this story.

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